Rahm’s Hunger Games-esque plan for Chicago schools fails to address systemic problems
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Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel appeared on “CBS This Morning” last week to discuss a proposal that would require Chicago Public Schools students to provide proof of acceptance to an institution such as college or the military in order to receive their high school diploma. Emanuel, who has come under fire in the last several years for his participation in the cover up of the Laquan McDonald shooting, has cautiously redirected efforts towards “improving” Chicago school systems. Since his election, CPS has approved the largest school closing in Chicago history, and a majority of those closed schools are located in Chicago’s south and west side. The shutdowns have allowed Emanuel to increase the number of charter schools in Chicago, which some consider a strategy to weaken the Chicago Teachers Union.

A large majority of the schools targeted for closure serve black and brown student populations including those in the Austin/North Lawndale, Englewood/Gresham, Burnham Park, Fullerton, Fulton, Garfield/Humboldt, Lake Calumet, Pershing, Midway, Pilsen/Little Village, Ravenswood/Ridge, and Rock Island’s neighborhoods. Not to mention that majority of the 508 teachers (including 262 tenured teachers) and 521 support staff, who received layoff notices in the past year several years, are also predominantly black women. According to CPS records obtained by the Better Government Association, about 29 percent, or 137, of the 479 plus job cuts involved African-American educators.

In Emanuel’s interview the Chicago mayor discussed the details of the post-high school prerequisites, “You have to have a letter of acceptance from a college, a letter of acceptance from a community college, a letter of acceptance either from the armed services or a trade.” The Chicago mayor went on to elaborate, explaining that if a student were to maintain a “B average”, then community college is free. This is a stark contrast to the recently unleashed plan, by New York lawmakers, to provide tuition-free education at all state public two- and four-year colleges in order to challenge the obstacles working-class students face gaining access to higher education.

According to Emanuel, however, need to enforce a post-high school career plan is something that is “necessary” for Chicago’s economic success, “That is what the economy requires, and that is what they need to succeed in life.”

If the city were to pass the proposal it would be the first city in the country to have such a model. If approved, the proposal would apply to current high school freshman (class of 2020), with proposed waivers for students who had ‘special’ life circumstances; such as undocumented students, or those who are incarcerated. The details of the unfolding proposal leave many to wonder whether this might also put additional pressure on vulnerable students to make rash decisions based on the high school prerequisites. Given the context of the most recent wave of CPS school closures, and the sheer amount of overcrowded and underfunded institutions, it seems that Chicago residents no longer need an excuse to relocate.

U.S. Census Bureau recently announced that the Chicagoland area is leading the U.S. in population loss for the second year in a row, with a rising affect in African American communities. According to a report released by the Chicago Tribune, between 2014 and 2015, more than 9,000 black residents left Cook County, and since 2010, the Chicago area, which for the census includes parts of Indiana and Wisconsin, has lost more than 35,000 black residents.

Despite the loss in Chicago residents, and apparent public discontent with his current administration, Rahm Emanuel insist that “every parent and child is very excited” about the new proposal.  With minimal focus on the institutional reform of Chicago’s public school systems, the proposed plan appears to be a band-aid solution to a more sophisticated issue. Illinois, itself, has already suffered drastic budget cuts under GOP Governor Bruce Rauner, leaving public colleges such as Northeastern University to cancel classes for several days at a time in an effort to deal with struggling costs.

Just last year, the state’s budget impasse became the topic of conversation when Chicago State University students launched massive protest in the face of limited resources and massive staff layoffs. Nevertheless, Rahm Emanuel has expressed the utmost confidence in the new proposal, and has signaled he intends to continue to advocate for it.

Since his first interview on the matter last Wednesday, Emanuel has clarified that an acceptable form of verification for the program would also include acceptance at a job training program/trades apprenticeship, acceptance into a “gap-year” program, and/or job offer letter as well.


Michelle Zacarias
Michelle Zacarias

Michelle Zacarias was a staff writer at People's World. A graduate of the Univ. of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, Zacarias invested her time in raising awareness on issues of social justice and equality. Michelle self identifies as multi-marginalized: as a Latina, a woman of color and a person with disabilities.